This month we focus on flexibility, and of all of the 5 Keys, this area is one that is often neglected as its value toward one’s overall health and fitness is somehow perceived as less great than the other Keys. Perhaps because it doesn’t have the same intensity feeling as running, or maybe it’s because there aren’t as cool comparatives like bench pressing your bodyweight, or it could just be that Rocky movie training montages have left out the stretching. Regardless of why, flexibility is an entire Key of Fitness for a reason--maintaining the suppleness of your muscles and connective tissues is necessary for your biomechanical health and longevity.
Without even going into the amazing benefits that effective massage can have on the tissue to increase flexibility, massage is undoubtedly great in providing an objective assessment of the tissue of your body and can also provide an early detection of areas of ischemia and over-tightness before your joints become affected. And passive stretching is great because it also provides an objective assessment and feedback, as well as allows you to relax into a deeper stretch.
Active stretching and focused movements can bring more of your awareness to your body and provide connection to how your body actually feels. This type of focused intention can be calming to the overstimulation that our brains are subjected to and it can also increase your awareness of your body. Which, if you start to view your body as the only tool you have to interact with the world, then you might believe that greater connectedness with it could be beneficial. And this type of stretching can be done anywhere (within modifications for dress and environment), it doesn’t have to be time intensive and the more frequently the better. The fact that it is so simple is probably a main reason that it gets neglected, but I encourage you to use the simple to your advantage. Adding just a little active stretching into your day can yield noticeable results in how you feel and how you move.
And, as always, let me know how I can help.
Like the conditions profiled in this infochart produced by a company looking to sell shoe inserts, I see the signs of weakened, tight, painful feet in the work that I do, often. It’s not that hard to come up with examples of how we abuse the highly accommodating and adaptive abilities of our feet. They allow us to shove them into extremely petite shoes (with an incredibly beautiful wedge toe and tiny point 3 inch heel), we may carry a 30 pound travel bag all over a major airport to make a connection, we may tote a 25 pound child on one hip for hours, we may walk on the beach barefoot for 3 hours when we have trained our feet to mostly walk in supportive shoes on cement, we may wear thong sandals all summer!!! Poor, poor little feet, not so much as a soak, or a rub! However, when feet fight back, it’s rough!
Feet demonstrate their ability to "hammer in the toes" and create bunions, they can develop plantar fasciitis in the arch and heel, they can present a Morton’s neuroma and osteoarthritis, bursitis, claw toe, or they can fall flat or host a stress fracture. And when I hear these conditions of the feet labeled as "inherited" or a condition of aging!! Well, I simply want to lie down where once I stood and suffer the agony of "defeet!" If you are doomed to have poor feet from getting older, just end it soon, and if god-forbid you have a genetic string of bunions running rampant in your DNA, start hoarding your pain meds now, because those are getting harder to come by!
Rather than wait for the other foot to drop, I want to pursue ideas and practices that help you create stable, responsive, pain free feet. Here again, for as impressive and complicated as the layers and mechanics of the foot truly are to allow for the endurance and adaptation demands, with such an ability to absorb a wide and impressive range of heavy-hitting support, the care of feet is kinda straight forward. Qualifier, foot care is most "straightforward" when you still sit in a place of prevention with the feet you have. If your feet experienced scar tissue, fracture or strain they most surely require steps for strength and mobility, but with slightly more specific considerations. Ultimately enhancing the ability of your feet is like any training, we look at what forces you have adapted your feet with, and we determine what can stay and what should shift. This article is intended to offer current insights of the toes of the foot. How your toes support your movement and how regular stretching of your toes can support your feet, and be part of the training to increase the strength and responsive features of those fabulous feet!
This month, as we navigate the Flexibility key of EQUIVITA’s Five Keys of Fitness, our foot care focus centers around stretching. Stretching the toes to be specific, as a way to create space in the tissues of your foot (the joints and tendons, the bones, the muscles and the fascia).
A strong case is made around this belief: that the widest part of your foot should be between your big toe and your baby toe. When this alignment is present in the foot a variety of things can also be present:
● The space between the toes allows for an effective dispersement of force as you strike the foot into the ground.
● The muscles in the foot are able to develop in balance, and perform a strong push through the ground, helping to ensure everything "up-stream" (ankles, calves, knees, hips) has access to its full muscle potential.
● The plantar fascia has the space and support to perform its trampoline-like function
● You are able to move the toes freely and independently, allowing you to best perceive and navigate changing terrain, and accommodate for more deft balance demands to your movement.
I have drawn an example of how the position of the toes, whether wide or more compressed, can influence the concentration of force of your foot system--in this drawing most specifically to the arch of the foot. Notice the shift from foot #2 where the wide toes support more central load to the arch of your foot, where the compressed toe pattern on foot #1 shift the load to the inside of the foot. This is where the content gets to be overwhelming, but shifts like that are what influence the body to create patterns of adaptation that over time manifest as painful conditions, like some of the foot conditions referenced in the above info chart.
So if you find that you look at your feet and they hold the shape of the shoes you wear, or you have struggled with painful or tight feet, perhaps you start with simply stretching your toes. In the images below I have a couple ways to initiate toe stretching:
● Lace the fingers between the toes and twist them forward backward, then side to side for roughly 2 minutes (I use a timer...longer than you think)
● Use a set of toe stretchers. The YogaToes gems in the one photo are a pretty big stretch, the thinner profile and softer material of the Mind Bodhi Toe Separators have stretch but less intense.
When you begin to practice toe stretching, please take it easy. Start with a couple minutes a day for a couple weeks. While the stretching devices make it easy to be more passive in the application of the stretch, DON’T set it and forget it. You can increase any of those stretches by working the thickest part of your means of toe separation, fingers or tool, and use them closer to the base of the toes or closer to the tip of your toes for increased space demand (probably start at the base, feels nicer anyway).
The danger is in the dose, right? While that statement is a tad dramatic, it underscores the belief that adaptation is the result of demand. If you only wear the amazing wedge heels a few hours a month, the ratio of demand is pretty low. If you never go barefoot, what happens then? Demand by another disguise.
There are a lot of questions raised around how constant use of athletic sneakers, widely thought to be the best shoe for good foot care, are guilty of over lift to the heel(marketed as a good heel cushion). Not having a wide enough/round enough toe box in the shoe to allow for the toes to support the foot, rather the front footbed of your foot is responsible for most of the force you generate and cannot receive support from the toes. Having a shoe with a thick cushion sole (marketed as a stability shoe), which suspends much of our ability to push out through our toes.
In some ways I think of feet as our body’s ears to the ground on which we walk, which means if we wear shoes over them all the time...well, it’s like wearing ear muffs to class, sure you can hear, kind of. Barefeet are the way the body listens to the surface of the world. It seems worthwhile to help our feet manage some time out of shoes. If that is a highly uncomfortable situation for you, maybe that is how you start to structure a toe stretch target for training. Stretch the toes a couple minutes and walk around your home barefoot for a short time.
I’m not saying those sweet Lucky-Red sneakers are leaving my uniform for good, and while I am sad to think about introducing the use of ‘natural’ footwear into my world, because I LOVE FASHION!!! And it’s not obvious to me that those two worlds have met...I am taking the dumb plunge, because I love life-long strong feet the most. Natural shoes are defined as having a large round toe box so the toes can seat themselves apart and flex and extend without restriction. It is my preference to increase the use of my barefoot, introduce some wide toe shoes to my workout/running life, and occasionally into my workday. Dynamic balance considerations, we at EQUIVITA built a brand on it.
Next month we will focus on the Cardio Key, and I will continue to move the conversation on training strong responsive feet. That article will focus on practices that support agility drills that you could adopt as a warm up to your walking/jogging/running practice. If you have questions about any part of this content on stretching your toes, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In good health!
For example, if you have repeatedly shown your body that it is not necessary to straighten your elbow fully then it will lose that range of movement. Initially, the loss won’t be noticeable and the elbow can be taken through the full extension with some effort. But over time the tissues of the body will adapt and then to achieve full extension would require some intense massage and stretching.
This process is most easily seen in our society in the position of the spine. The flattened curve of the lower back, rounded forward upper back and extended neck are examples of this type of adaptation to how the body is being used and are the cause of much pain and degeneration of the spine.
As mentioned, regaining lost flexibility can take quite an effort, but maintaining it is relatively easy. To maintain the range of movement, you just need to remind the body to keep the full range of motion by taking the body through the full range. And for maintenance, frequency seems to be the important component and becomes increasingly more important the more usage experiences that the body has (aka as we age).
Once the range has been lost it can be regained, at least to some extent. On the one hand, it is living tissue and so it will adapt, but on the other, the time and effort to get full adaptation might be greater than one has to give. While the specific details may vary, the overall plan is the same:
Incorporate massage to disrupt adhesions.
Gentle ballistic stretch to activate elasticity.
Static stretch, passive or active, to lengthen.
And, as always, let me know how I can help.
As we say goodbye to the rather complicated and life changing year of 2020, so goes our efficiency. If you’ve somehow managed to hold onto yours, I lift a glass to you in awe. For the rest of you, you’re not alone. I’m here with you—dedicated “work pajamas” and all!
One majorly understated obligation of work-from-home that affects efficiency is your schedule. It’s a whole lot easier to know when to start being productive and when to put it to rest when you have an external space dedicated to work, plus set arrival and departure times from that workspace. Now, in the new era of work-from-home, all the benefits of having the office wherever you are comes with the companion challenges of the same quality—including all the home distractions! It’s no wonder that efficiency can be greatly effected when all of your home responsibilities now have the potential to exist at the same time as your work responsibilities, plus all the temptations that being at home provide. Because, let’s be honest, when it comes to choosing between YouTube wormholes, another Netflix episode that’s so conveniently autoplayed, that load of laundry or pile of dishes that could be done, and the endless inbox, that cumbersome report, and having to get out of your sweats and hoodie to record a workshop or client video, I certainly know which ones I’d rather be doing.
So in the honor of efficiency, here are some tips on how to create personal and professional boundaries that help in tackling how to have a more efficient schedule:
- Have a dedicated space that’s for just work. If you don’t have the capability to have a room for your home office, you can dedicate the kitchen table to work during certain times of the day.
- Just like in the office, limit phone time to particular times of day, such as during lunchtime and evening.
- Eliminate easy distractions such as clutter, unnecessary devices like TVs, and leisure materials like non-professional books. Really anything that becomes “tempting”.
- Don’t do “your time” stuff during “work time” and visa versa. Don’t check emails before you “clock in”, and don’t do that pesky, overdue dusting task while you’re “on the clock”.
- Get out of those pajamas when “at work”! What we wear, and what we think about the clothing we wear, affects us. Pajamas signal the brain towards relaxation, whereas a shirt and jeans can put us in the mindset of activity and productivity.
Back in 2010 a new “hunchback” dinosaur was found by archeologists in what is present day Spain. Scientists are puzzled by the camel-like creature, but they shouldn’t be. This was just an unfortunate species of dinosaurs that knew nothing about ergonomics and “tech neck” while doing their dinosaur jobs. I know you’re asking, “what does this have to do with anything?”… Well, this dinosaur has been extinct for a very long time now, so let’s avoid a reemergence of such an ancient trend.
We’ve talked recently at length about how posture and mechanics can influence and affect your emotional and mental state through the fascia, which we’ve related to fitness and personal exercise routines, but the same goes for work-from-home ergonomics. Here are 12 ergonomic tips to help transform your home workspace in order to be more engaged, attentive and positive during your work day (from ehstoday.com May 2020):
- Adjust the chair or seat height so that the thighs are approximately parallel to the floor with the feet resting flat on the floor or on a footrest. The seat pan should not compress the back of the thighs.
- Adjust the seat back—the lower back (lumbar area) plus mid-back should be well-supported. Adjust the seat back height, angle and tilt tension accordingly and sit back in the chair.
- Ensure that the “ASDF”, row of the keyboard is at the elbow height for a sitting or standing workstation.
- Ensure forearms are approximately parallel to the floor—adjust the keyboard and mouse tray or desk height accordingly.
- Ensure wrists are straight and the hands are in line with the forearms—adjust the height and position of the keyboard tray to keep wrists flat.
- Keep elbows close to the sides—adjust arm rests so that the weight of the forearms rest on the arms rests. Avoid hunching the shoulders forward.
- Reduce the awkward postures of the neck, by placing the monitor at or slightly below the eye height while seated or standing.
- Ensure monitor is placed 20-40 in. (about an arm’s length) away from the eyes. The monitor distance should be about 20 in. when using a small screen or a laptop screen and further away as the screen size gets larger. Dual monitors should be located closely together and at the same height and distance so that the eyes do not have to re-focus and the head does not turn significantly when looking between the monitors.
- Reduce eye strain, take micro-breaks and follow the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20 second break every 20 minutes by looking at things at least 20 feet away.
- Incorporate stretch breaks—changes in posture throughout the day. Schedule work and strategically place peripherals so that prolonged seated posture can be avoided (placing the printer in another room would necessitate a micro-break to get up and walk).
- Position frequently-used materials and equipment close to the front of the body (primary work zone) to avoid twisting and reaching.
- Ensure good task lighting when working on printed materials, and focused, diffused light for computer work. If the monitor is placed next to a window, the window should have a covering that prevents direct light on the monitor screen, or the monitor should be placed at a right angle to the window. Glare will cause eye fatigue and dryness. Adjust the tilt of the laptop screen to minimize screen glare. Use an anti-glare screen only as a last resort.
All the best,
- A little bit regularly is usually more effective than a lot every so often. (This is true of a lot of things.) A brief period of stretching regularly reminds the body what you’re asking of it.
- If you’re going to do static stretching, be mindful that your body is warm. I often think of how a piece of gum stretches when it’s been chewed, but not so much when it hasn’t.
- Flexibility can be about movement as well as holding a stretch. For instance, achy, stiff fingers? Ranges of movement in the hands, wrists and arms help to keep them supple.
- Do a passive chest stretch. Can’t say it enough. (Refer to #1)
- This one might be a stretch (ha!)... keep your mind flexible by trying brief meditation or breathing practices. (Refer to #1)